A successful mainframe career isn’t dependent on the number of years you’ve been in the mainframe field, but on how you put your knowledge to work every day and how you adapt to new learning experiences. Meral Temel, manager of z/OS team at Işbank, spoke at SHARE Pittsburgh about the the ways programmers can get up to speed quickly on the latest z/OS products and features. In transitioning from university to her first job, Temel learned a hard lesson: there isn’t one book that can prepare you for the problems you’ll have to solve. “I was used to reading and learning from the books I had in my university courses, but in the first few months as a system programmer, I learned that you have to take a different approach,” she says. Temel adds that you have to target one aspect at a time and learn it in-depth before moving on to the next component. This is just one of the insights she provided to programmers looking to take their careers to the next level.
Temel began her career on the mainframe as a VSE/ESA system programmer in 1996. She didn’t know anything at the start, but as she learned more and more about the mainframe, she realized it was the best platform on which to exercise her computer science knowledge. Temel adds, “When we improve things, everything improves; but when we fail, everything will mostly fail. That’s why we try so hard not to fail.”
Biggest Mistakes Programmers Make
Foremost, Temel says new system programmers are often unaware of the mainframe’s capabilities, such as its ability to increase memory without an outage. She advises that system programmers take the time to learn the mainframe’s capabilities and what sets the platform apart from other platforms. Secondly, Temel says mainframe programmers need to enjoy what they do or they won’t be successful.
“Programmers are like detectives. In looking for information or doing trouble-shooting, system programmers are searching for the clues that will lead them to the solution to the problem,” she says. “Learning the platform is ultimately an investment in themselves as system programmers.”
Another common misconception, says Temel, is that mainframe programmers think they will not get to do anything useful for a long time. But this is not the case. They have the working knowledge to discover a problem without knowing all the ins-and-outs of each component of the platform, she explains. They can recognize normal values or review a system log and see which line is the problem. Temel adds that many system programmers also have the misconception that they need to wait to be tapped for a new project to learn about it. She says programmers should be more proactive and start learning now before a system breaks down or a project is assigned.
Top Tips for Mainframe Programmers
Temel says it is not about a mainframe programmer’s years of experience, but how an individual programmer spends those years. She adds, “System programmers can learn a great deal on their own,” referring to resources now available on the internet, as well as colleagues available and willing to mentor others.
Temel advises that mainframe programmers begin by learning their own environment in depth. For instance, a developer can begin by knowing the code and testing the environment. She says that system programmers should take the time to test changes in a test environment before making changes to the platform. “Even if it is a small thing, testing it beforehand is really important,” Temel adds. System programmers should consider testing which actions they will use during trouble-shooting before an actual problem occurs. She says, “Tell yourself, ‘How can I find a problem in this area of the platform? How can I find an issue in one component?’ Doing this before a problem occurs will prepare you and you will learn more each time you face a problem.”
“I always tell my team that you will read the same paragraph five years later and you will understand more,” she adds. It is not about learning a command or statement, she says. It is more about learning how things work. “If they target this, the information they learn will be theirs forever,” Temel explains.
Part of this process requires each mainframe programmer to create an index or way of organizing everything they’ve learned. Having a system in place, says Temel, ensures the system programmer can access the knowledge they’ve acquired more quickly than through memorization. She advises emailing information to yourself about a product or process, keeping notes in documents, and maintaining directories for each product. Additionally, Temel says listing critical websites in one place makes it easier to reference them, and she also advises taking notes on commands you learn and organizing them, or drawing diagrams to illustrate how the platform works and interacts with other components.
Temel adds that self-directed learning is key to career advancement and success. Despite system programmers’ best efforts to learn on the job, there still will be gaps in that knowledge. Mistakes, she explains, are part of the learning process. She advises that mainframe programmers create their own action plans before they begin a task in order to stay on track and ensure they do not forget any critical steps in the process. These plans can be updated as failures or mistakes occur, which can lead to improvements across the team when shared. Temel says mainframe professionals all need to think big picture: why was this product invented, and what need does it serve?
Success Goes Beyond the Individual
Temel says the most successful people are those who are self-motivated to continually learn, explore, grow, and share that acquired knowledge with their team to ensure broader success. Mainframe programmers can learn software and components on their own with manuals, videos, and more. Taking that one step further, system programmers can expand their knowledge when they become active in groups like SHARE, become members of design councils and vendor groups, and network with other mainframe professionals.